SANTIAGO: Volcano Villarrica in southern Chile erupted in the early hours of Tuesday, sending ash and lava high into the sky, and forcing the evacuation of nearby communities.

The volcano, located near the popular tourist resort of Pucon around 750 km (460 miles) south of the capital Santiago, is one of South Americas most active. It last erupted in 2000. Television pictures showed orange lava and ash shooting into the night sky when it erupted at around 3 am local time (0600 GMT), although it looked quieter as dawn broke. Some 3,385 people had been evacuated as a preventative measure, said Interior Minister Rodrigo Penailillo.

The government held an emergency meeting with the police and military in the presidential palace in Santiago on Tuesday morning to discuss the situation.

Chile, situated on the so-called Pacific Rim of Fire, has the second largest chain of volcanoes in the world after Indonesia, including around 500 that are potentially active. In 2011, the eruption of Puyehue sent an ash cloud into the atmosphere that disrupted flights in neighboring Argentina for months. Penailillo said experts were flying over the Villarrica area to determine next steps.